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Full text of "Newman's theory of development and its historical context"

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http://archive.org/details/newmanstheoryofdOOmoll 






21 
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EPISCOPAL DIVINITY SCHOOL 



NEWMAN'S THEORY OF DEVELOPMENT 
AND ITS HISTORICAL CONTEXT 



A THESIS SUBMITTED TO CERTIFY 

SPECIAL COMPETENCE IN HISTORICAL THEOLOGY 

FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS 



BY 
MICHAEL B. JOSEPH MOLLEUR 



CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS 
APRIL, 1995 



THESIS READERS 



Lloyd G. Patterson, Faculty Advisor 

William Reed Huntington Professor 

of Historical Theology 



Fredrica Harris Thompsett, Academic Dean 
Mary Wolfe Professor of Historical Theology 



Robert T. Brooks 
Candidate for the Degree of Master of Divinity 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 

Chapter Page 

1. INTRODUCTION 1 

2. NEWMAN'S THEORY OF DEVELOPMENT 5 

The University Sermon on Developments in 
Religious Doctrine 

The Essay on Development 

3. NEWMAN'S THEORY IN ITS HISTORICAL SETTING .... 21 

Roman Catholic Responses 

Anglican Criticisms 

The Intellectual Climate of Newman's Day 

4. SOME PROBLEMS WITH NEWMAN'S THEORY 35 

Development From What ; The Question of the 
"Original Idea" of Christianity 

Development To What ; The Teleological 
Question 

The Question of New or Ongoing Revelation 

5. FINAL OBSERVATIONS 47 

NOTES 52 

BIBLIOGRAPHY 60 



CHAPTER 1 
INTRODUCTION 

In his book From Bossuet to Newman , which has been 
deservedly termed a minor classic, * Owen ChadwicJc notes that 
"[t]he relation of Christianity to history is seen to be 
entangled with questions about the truth of Christianity, 
and the various ways in which its faith is formed and 
formulated." 2 Professor Chadwick proceeds to identify some 
of the different ways Christian thinkers have attempted to 
explain religious change ("religious change" being 
essentially synonymous with "the relation of Christianity to 
history"). As the title of his book indicates, Chadwick's 
study ends with John Henry Newman, whose explanation of the 
relation between Christianity and history, or religious 
change, has been widely regarded as "the almost inevitable 
starting point for an investigation of development of 
doctrine. "^ This thesis will explore Newman's notion of the 
development of doctrine, with attention to the historical 
context in which he wrote. 

Prior to the nineteenth century, no one paid much 
attention to the relation between Christianity and history. 
Seeming changes in Christian doctrine (for no "real" changes 
were admitted) were accounted for by Bossuet as mere 

1 



translations into clearer language, in which only the 
wording of a doctrine, but never the idea, changed. 4 
Medieval theologians typically explained "changes" in terms 
of logical deduction: if "two revealed premises may be put 
together to produce a conseguence, the conseguence must be 
as certain as the premises, and it can only be as certain as 
the premises if it has itself the certainty of revelation." 5 
Another notion which came into play was the Disciplina 
Arcani , which claimed that the Church always taught what it 
now teaches, only previously the teaching had been kept 
secret from the public, lest the Church run the risk of 
casting its pearls before trampling swine. 

A heightened historical consciousness was one of the 
primary intellectual shifts which distinguished the thought 
of the nineteenth century from that of previous ages. This 
shift helped give rise to the greatest theological problem 
of the nineteenth-century: "the problem of the relation 
between Christian certainty and the inevitable failure of 
historical inguiry ever to produce results which are more 
than probable results." 7 It is within this background and 
context that, in the 1840' s, John Henry Newman attempted to 
articulate his own understanding of the relation between 
Christianity and history. He did so by means of his "theory 
of the development of doctrine," which he offered as "an 
expedient to enable us to solve what has now become a 
necessary and an anxious problem."** The new problem was the 
truth of Christianity in the light of historical criticism. 



In 1853 Robert Wilberforce read Newman's Essay on the 

Development of Christian Doctrine / which had been published 

eight years previously. Wilberforce then wrote to Newman, 

requesting further clarification of his "theory of 

development." Newman responded as follows: 

. . . [T]he Holy Ghost, saw, that one truth must sink 
into the mind , i.e. be developed, before another? e.g. 
first the being of God (against Gnosticism etc.) then 
the Divinity of the Son (against Arianism), then the 
Incarnation etc. etc. — not as if the truths were not 
given from the first , but they had to be worked out 
historically over long periods, in order to be realized 
in the hearts of the millions and of the teaching body 
etc. 9 

In this response to Wilberforce we have perhaps the most 

succinct statement of Newman's understanding of doctrinal 

development. Christian truths have to be worked out 

historically , over long periods. But whether or not 

Newman's theory will allow him to maintain, as he does 

emphatically in the above quotation, that those truths were 

"given from the first" (in a once-and-f or-all, final 

revelation of God in Christ, entrusted to the apostles) is a 

question that will require careful examination. 

The next chapter of this thesis will analyze Newman's 

two primary works dealing with doctrinal development: his 

1843 university sermon "The Theory of Developments in 

Religious Doctrine" and the 1845 Essay on the Development of 

Christian Doctrine . When he preached the former, which was 

the last of his Oxford University sermons, Newman was 

already questioning his membership in the Church of 

England. By the time he published the latter, he had taken 



4 

the first steps toward reception into the Roman Catholic 
Church. 

The third chapter will discuss the responses, both 
Roman Catholic and Anglican, which the Essay on Development 
provoked, as well as the degree to which both Newman and his 
"theory" fit in with the prevailing intellectual climate of 
the mid-nineteenth century. 

Chapter Four will consider three problems or questions 
which arise from the study of Newman's theory. The first 
concerns Newman's notion of the "original idea" of 
Christianity; the second probes the teleological 
implications of the theory; and the third deals with the 
particularly thorny issue, already noted above, of whether 
Newman's theory demands a corresponding notion of continuous 
revelation. 

In the fifth chapter some concluding observations will 
be made concerning Newman and his "theory of the development 
of doctrine." 



CHAPTER 2 
NEWMAN'S THEORY OF DEVELOPMENT 

Nicholas Lash points out that some commentators, "in 
their search for Newman's 'theory' of development, devote 
the greater part of their analysis to the sermon rather than 
to the Essay . " * Lash suggests that the reason some prefer 
the sermon over the Essay might be the closeness with which 
Newman, in the sermon, presses the analogy between the 
development of an idea within a society, and the development 
of an idea in the mind of an individual. I suspect there 
is a far more general explanation for the appeal of the 
sermon. It contains, within the space of 40 short pages, 
many of the essential elements that would later figure in 
the 445-page Essay . 3 since Newman wrote the sermon less 
than two years before he began work on the Essay , the sermon 
can be viewed as his precis for the longer and much more 
complex Essay which followed. It is not the intention, in 
this thesis, to devote the greater part of the analysis to 
the sermon. However, the value of the sermon as a 
preliminary study of Newman's understanding of doctrinal 
development is considerable. The sermon will therefore be 
given some attention before proceeding to the Essay . 



The University Sermon on Developments 
in Religious Doctrine 

"The Theory of Developments in Religious Doctrine" was 
the title of the fifteenth (and final) of Newman's Oxford 
University sermons. He preached the sermon on the Feast of 
the Purification in the year 1843, at a time when he was 
experiencing grave doubts as to whether he could remain in 
the Church of England, but before he had decided to join the 
Roman Catholic Church. He took as his text Luke 2:19 — "But 
Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." 
Mary, Newman suggests, is a type or icon of development. As 
she "kept" and "pondered" the mystery of the Incarnation, so 
the Church keeps and ponders, and thereby develops, the 
doctrines of the faith. 

It is important to note that Newman is not trying to 
decide whether Christianity has developed; he takes it for 
granted that Christianity has developed. None of the 
Christian bodies of the mid-nineteenth century, whether 
Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Protestant (he barely 
acknowledges the existence of Eastern Orthodoxy!), was 
identical to Newman's conception of the "Great Church" of 
the apostolic and patristic eras. Both in terms of theology 
and polity, all churches had undergone change, or 
developed. "The controversy between the English Church and 
the Church of Rome [therefore] lies," writes Newman in this 
sermon, " in the matter of fact , whether such and such 
developments are true, . . . not in the principle of 



development itself." 4 He cites as an example the doctrine 
of Purgatory, which Roman Catholics hold, but Anglicans 
deny, to be a true development of the doctrine of post- 
baptismal sin. 5 Thus, the issues which are of real interest 
to Newman are how Christian doctrine develops, and how we 
distinguish true developments from false ones. 

The notion that Christianity begins as an idea is 
central in the sermon, as it will be in the Essay . 
Unfortunately, nowhere in the sermon does Newman define 
exactly what he means by "idea"; but the fact that he uses 
the words "idea" and "impression" interchangeably throughout 
the sermon is instructive. We frequently find phrases such 
as "inward impression," "religious impression," and "sacred 
impression" used as synonyms for "idea."" "A mere religious 
impression, and perhaps an unconscious one" is perhaps the 
closest we will come, in Newman's own words, to his 
understanding of "idea." 7 Newman speaks not only of ideas , 
in the plural, but also of "the great idea," "the original 
idea," "the one idea" which is of the essence of 
Christianity, without ever specifiying the content of that 
one, great, original idea. He does say that "the human mind 
cannot reflect upon that idea, except piecemeal, cannot use 
it in its oneness and entireness, nor without resolving it 
into a series of aspects and relations." 9 Newman thus 
claims to know that there is one, great, original idea of 
Christianity, despite the fact that he is unable to say, or 
even to know, what that idea is. This significant weakness 



8 

in Newman's argument was to be greatly criticized by the 
Anglican writers who responded to his "theory of 
development," as will be seen in the next chapter. 

The stages by which an idea, or religious impression, 
is transformed into a doctrine is, in Newman's analysis, the 
process of that idea's development. Taking as examples the 
Trinity and the Incarnation, Newman outlines the following 
six-step dialectic, by which the initial idea or inward 
impression "develops" into a doctrine: 

1. The mind naturally turns "with a devout 
curiosity to the contemplation of the Object of its 
adoration," in this instance either to the glory of the 
Trinity or the mystery of the Incarnation. 

2. The mind next "begins to form statements 
concerning" the Divine reality, not knowing where these 
mental formations will eventually lead it. 

3 . " One proposition necessarily leads to 
another , " and that to a third, etc. 

4. " Some limitation is required ." Newman does 
not specify what the limits are, or how they are 
achieved . 

5. The opposites produced by the limiting process 
are combined together , occasioning "fresh evolutions 
from the original idea." 

6. The end result is a " body of dogmatic 
statements , " i.e., a series of reasoned propositions, 
on the subject of either the Trinity or the 



9 

Incarnation. ^ 
Newman concludes his analysis of this dialectic of 
development by drawing our attention to the fact that what 
began as "an impression on the Imagination has become a 
system or creed in the Reason." 1 ^ Note that once again he 
makes no distinction between an "idea in the mind" and an 
"impression on the imagination." 

The process of development does not end once an idea 
has issued into a doctrine. Doctrines themselves give birth 
to further doctrines; "one dogma creates another, by the 
same right by which it was itself created. "^ Newman's 
reasoning forces him to the conclusion that not all 
Christian doctrines can be found in scripture, and he does 
not shrink from that conclusion. He states boldly that "it 
is a mistake to look for every separate proposition of the 
Catholic doctrine in Scripture" ; ^ the statements of 
scripture begin but do not exhaust Christian doctrine. Does 
Newman's reasoning also force him into a notion of new or 
ongoing revelation? New doctrine does not necessarily imply 
new revelation. For example, a new doctrine concerning the 
Trinity might simply mean that we now understand the 
revelation about the Divine Trinity in Unity more clearly or 
fully than we ever had before, without there having 
necessarily been any change in the revelation itself. This 
difficult issue of continuous revelation will need to be 
revisited more than once in the pages to come. 

To conclude this analysis of the sermon on 



10 

developments/ the question naturally arises: where does 
Newman's process of development finally lead? Do ideas 
continue to develop into doctrines, and doctrines into 
further doctrines, ad infinitum ? Or does the process reach 
a definite end point? 14 (These will also prove to be 
recurring questions.) In the sermon, Newman's teleology is 
contradictory. In some places he seems to say that the 
process of development does come to an end, using 
expressions such as a dogma's arriving at "its exact and 
determinate issue," 15 and the evolution of a Christian 
doctrine to the point of "whole truth." 16 In other places, 
however, he implies that the process of development is 
unending. One example is his contention that "the Catholic 
dogmas are . . . but symbols of a Divine fact, which, far 
from being compassed by those very propositions, would not 
be exhausted, nor fathomed by a thousand." 1 ' Newman seems 
to be saying in this latter instance that there will always 
be room for improvement and growth in the realm of Christian 
doctrine. Perhaps the Essay on Development , to which we now 
turn our attention, will prove to contain a more conclusive 
teleology. 

The Essay on Development 
An assertion that is frequently made about Newman is 
that, in the process of composing An Essay on the 
Development of Christian Doctrine , he "wrote himself into" 
the Roman Catholic Church. In terms of chronology, this 



11 

assertion certainly appears to be valid. When Newman began 
the Essay in early 1845 he was still a priest in the Church 
of England. Before he had completed the final draft, ten 
months or so later, he had taken the first steps toward 
reception into the Roman Catholic Church. However, this 
assertion that Newman "wrote himself into" his new religious 
allegiance is questionable. There is significant evidence, 
which will be discussed below, that Newman had already made 
up his mind about converting to Roman Catholicism, and that 
the purpose of the Essay , at least in part, was to justify, 
or to provide an intellectual rationale for, his conversion. 

The Purpose of the Essay 

In the Essay itself, Newman states that the primary 
purpose of his theory of development is to offer "an 
hypothesis to account for a dif f iculty . " *° The "difficulty" 
is the problem of religious change generally, the problem of 
change in Christianity more specifically, and, arguably, the 
problem of Newman's own change of religious allegiance most 
specifically. 

An assumption about the doctrine of Tradition which was 
widely held by Roman Catholics prior to the nineteenth 
century was that Christianity does not change . Its 
immutability was viewed as demonstration of its truth. 
Newman, a skilled and usually honest historian, knew this 
common assumption to be false; the evidence of history 
simply did not point to an immutable Christianity. "I 



12 

concede," writes Newman in the Essay , "that there are to be 
found, during the 1800 years through which it has lasted, 
certain apparent inconsistencies and alterations in its 
doctrine and its worship. . . . " 19 His avowed purpose in 
setting forth his theory of development is to demonstrate 
that the Roman Catholicism of his own day was " in its 
substance the very religion which Christ and His Apostles 
taught in the first [century], whatever may be the 
modifications for good or for evil" which have resulted with 
the passage of time. 20 Thus Newman concedes that there have 
been changes in Christian doctrine and practice, but he also 
maintains that those changes do not signify any alteration 
in the essence of Christianity. His theory of development 
attempts to demonstrate how this can be so. 

So much for Newman's avowed purpose in writing the 
Essay . His other, less directly stated purpose was 
apologetic — the justification of his own conversion, his own 
Christian/religious change. There are some hints of this 
apologetic purpose in the Essay itself. For example, at one 
point Newman says that "a gradual conversion from a false to 
a true religion, plainly, has much of the character of a 
continuous process, or a development." Furthermore, "such a 
change consists in addition and increase chiefly, not in 
destruction." 21 Might Newman be here alluding to his own 
"development" from the "false" religion of the Church of 
England to the "true religion" of Roman Catholicism, a 
change which consisted not in the "destruction" of what was 



13 

valid in Anglicanism, but rather in the "addition and 
increase" of those elements (the papacy, purgatory, 
transubstantiation, the cultus of Mary and the saints, etc.) 
which were held by Rome but rejected by the Church of 
England? Newman admits the apologetic purpose of the Essay 
more directly in his autobiographical Apologia pro Vita Sua , 
where he writes: "I was engaged in writing a book ( Essay on 
Development ) in favour of the Roman Church, and indirectly 
[sic!] against the English. . . ," 22 Lash notes that 
Newman's other autobiographical materials (letters and 
diaries) likewise demonstrate that "his •object* was to 'put 
before the mind a straightforward argument for joining the 
Church of Rome, leaving difficulties to shift for 
themselves . • "23 

The reason for calling attention to this question of 
Newman's purpose in writing the Essay is that, generally 
speaking, the writer of apologetic is less concerned with 
attention to detail and internal consistency than is the 
writer of systematic theology. Newman's "theory of 
development" will be shown to have more than its share of 
inconsistencies, which he would indeed seem to have been 
content to allow to "shift for themselves." We may more 
easily forgive Newman for these inconsistencies, if we 
frankly admit that his purpose in the Essay was as much to 
defend his own conversion as to produce a theological 
treatise. 



14 

Organization of the Essay 

The third edition of the Essay (1878) was Newman's 
final re-working of the book. The differences between the 
first two editions (1845 and 1846) were very minor; in the 
third edition, however, Newman undertook a major 
reorganization of the book. Substantive changes were few 
and, for the most part, not significant. The order of the 
contents, however, was completely rearranged. For the 
purposes of this thesis the third, and now definitive, 
edition of the Essay will be used. It has the advantage of 
being both Newman's final word on the topic, and the most 
widely available in-print edition of the book. The drawback 
of using the third edition is that it is not the exact 
edition of the Essay to which Newman's first generation of 
Roman Catholic and Anglican critics responded. But agairv, 
the substantive changes between 1845 and 1878 were few. 

The third edition is divided into two major parts: 
Part One is called "Doctrinal Developments Viewed in 
Themselves," and Part Two, "Doctrinal Developments Viewed 
Relatively to Doctrinal Corruptions." All of the 
particulars of Newman's "theory of development" are laid out 
in Part One. Part Two, which comprises nearly two-thirds of 
the book, is concerned with the explication of what Newman 
refers to as the seven "notes" by which to distinguish true 
doctrinal developments from corruptions. The overwhelming 
consensus of Newman scholars is that Part Two adds little of 
value to Newman's project. Chadwick refers to the seven 



15 

"notes" as "'tests' which Newman half-heartedly alleged for 
distinguishing true developments from false developments." 24 
Lash adds that, "[i]n practice ... it is doubtful whether 
Newman's tests could be effectively applied so as to ensure 
that any significant impoverishment, distortion or 
suppression would be detected." 25 A minority opinion is 
held by Hugo Meynell, who maintains that the "notes" do 
accomplish their purpose, despite the fact that Newman 
himself seems to have conceded that they failed to perform 
the task he had hoped they would perform. 25 Since I agree 
that the seven "notes" add nothing of significance to 
Newman's attempt to articulate a theory of development, the 
remainder of the analysis in this section will be confined 
to an examination of Part One of the Essay . 

The Theory of Development 



. . . [T]he increase and expansion of the Christian 
Creed and Ritual, and the variations which have 
attended the process in the case of individual writers 
and Churches, are the necessary attendants on any 
philosophy or polity which takes possession of the 
intellect and heart, and has had any wide or extended 
dominion; . . . from the nature of the human mind, time 
is necessary for the full comprehension and perfection 
of great ideas; . . . the highest and most wonderful 
truths, though communicated to the world once for all 
by inspired teachers, could not be comprehended all at 
once by the recipients, but, as being received and 
transmitted by minds not inspired and through media 
which were human, have required only the longer time 
and deeper thought for their full elucidation. This 
may be called the Theory of Development of 
Doctrine . . , 27 

Here, in his own words, we have one of Newman's more 



16 

concise expositions of a central aspect of his "theory of 
development." Change, growth, development, is a natural and 
expected attribute of any living, healthy entity. 
Christianity is such an entity. Great ideas do not enter 
the human mind full-blown; they may only be grasped 
gradually, over long periods of time. Christianity presents 
itself to the human mind as that type of idea. This is not 
to say that the truths to which those great ideas point are 
not in themselves complete and entire. Father, because of 
the limitations of our human minds, we are only able to take 
those truths in and comprehend them a little at a time. 
Christianity is such a complete, once-and-for-all truth, 
despite the fact that the human minds which together 
comprise the Church here on earth can only assimilate that 
truth bit by bit. The many doctrines of the Church are like 
so many aspects or facets of the One Great Idea which 
Christianity impresses on our minds. Christian doctrine 
thus grows over time, or develops, as the corporate mind of 
the Church expands in its knowledge of the one, unchanging, 
ultimate truth. 

There is a strong temptation at this point to assert 
that the above statements constitute, in summary form, 
"Newman's theory of development." However, that temptation 
must be resisted. As Lash has convincingly demonstrated, 
Newman's "theory" does not allow itself to be so easily 
summarized. He repeatedly warns "against abstracting any 
particular feature," for example the lengthy quotation 



17 

above, "from the total argument of the Essay , and 
identifying it alone with 'Newman's theory of 
development.'" 28 The reason for this is that, when the 
Essay is viewed as a whole, it becomes apparent that Newman 
never does state straightforwardly one coherent theory. 
Rather, what he actually generates are several "rudimentary 
•theories,'" some of which can be shown to be "mutually 
incompatible." 29 Furthermore, Newman's apologetic purpose 
results in arguments that often tend to be more "persuasive" 
and "non-demonstrative" than rigorously consistent and 
logical. 30 Put another way, the Essay frequently reads more 
like a sermon than a theological treatise. The sense in 
which such persuasive, non-demonstrative arguments can be 
held to constitute a unified theory is, as Lash rightly 
maintains, "heavily qualified." 31 

More specifically, Newman complicates the issue of 
doctrinal development by bringing a number of "sub-theories" 
into the discussion. Three examples of such sub-theories 
are: the "all or nothing" theory; the theory of "antecedent 
probability"; and the theory of an "infallible developing 
authority" (the latter two, although not the first, are 
Newman's own designations). 

According to Newman, we "must accept the whole [of 
Roman Catholic dogma] or reject the whole; attenuation does 
but enfeeble, and amputation mutilate." 32 Here we have 
examples of both the sub-theory of "all or nothing," and 
Newman's use of persuasive (sermonic) rather than 



18 

demonstrative (theological) language. Roman Catholic 
doctrine, in Newman's opinion, comes as a sort of "package 
deal." The fact that one or some of its doctrines are true 
guarantees that they all are true; they admit of no picking 
and choosing. Since all the doctrines "together make up one 
integral religion, it follows that . . . [all] must be 
thrown into a common stock, and all are available in the 
defense of any." 33 But why must this be so? How can it be 
reasonably held that, for example, the truth of the doctrine 
of the Incarnation guarantees the truth of the doctrine of 
Transubstantiation? Or how can the doctrine of the Trinity 
meaningfully be brought to the defense of the doctrine of 
the Immaculate Conception? Newman's sub-theory of "all or 
nothing" unnecessarily complicates the issue of doctrinal 
development, without contributing anything constructive to 
that issue. 

The second sub-theory, "antecedent probability," is, in 
Newman's scheme, an argument from fittingness. The fact 
that we can identify a lack or a need makes it likely, or 
antecedently probable, that God will make provision for or 
supply that need. Newman argues that just as, in the 
visible creation, "the need and its supply are a proof of 
[providential] design," just so the "gaps ... which occur 
in the structure of the original creed of the Church, make 
it probable that those developments, which grow out of the 
truths which lie around it, were intended to fill them 
up." 34 Thus in Christian doctrine as well as in the natural 



19 

order, need constitutes proof of supply; the fact that we 
think it would be fitting for God to do something, is 
sufficient proof that God did it or will do it. 

An example of such antecedent probability can be seen 
in Newman's third sub-theory, the infallible developing 
authority. He maintains that, "in proportion to the 
probability of true developments of doctrine and practice in 
the Divine Scheme, so is the probability also of the 
appointment in that scheme of an external authority to 
decide upon them. . . . " 35 At one po i n t Newman locates this 
infallible authority in the church, ° at other points in the 
office of the papacy. 37 He further states that the 
"absolute need of a spiritual supremacy is at present the 
strongest of arguments in favour of the fact of its 
supply." 38 Need guarantees supply. This "strongest of 
arguments" is a very weak one indeed. Even if all people 
agreed with Newman's subjective analysis of the situation 
(that a spiritual supremacy is absolutely needed), which 
they certainly do not , still, how could the human perception 
of the existence of such a need possibly constitute proof 
that God has or will supply that need? Is God to be bound 
by our perceptions of what is lacking, and of what would 
constitute a fitting supply for that lack? Such an 
assertion comes perilously close to idolatry. As was the 
case with the "all or nothing" theory, Newman's theories of 
antecedent probability and an infallible developing 
authority serve only to complicate, not clarify, the issue 



20 

of doctrinal development. 

Three important questions concerning the theory of 
development set forth in Newman's Essay remain to be 
discussed: his notion of the "original idea" of 
Christianity; the teleological implications of the theory; 
and the problem of ongoing revelation. Since these 
questions will be the primary focus of Chapter Four, as well 
as a significant emphasis in the "Anglican Criticisms" 
section of Chapter Three, nothing more will be said about 
them at this point. 

The issue which must now be raised is the that of the 
reception of the Essay . 



CHAPTER 3 
NEWMAN'S THEORY IN ITS HISTORICAL SETTING 

According to Stephen Prickett, Newman's Essay was 
"widely read and reviewed with equally varying degrees of 
incomprehension. On the whole, [Roman] Catholic critics 
found Newman's reasons for joining Holy Mother Church as 
tortuous and eccentric as Anglicans found his reasons for 
quitting the Via Media ."* Perhaps Prickett is correct in 
his assertion that Newman's readers failed to comprehend his 
theory of doctrinal development. It is certainly the case 
that the readers of the Essay , both Roman Catholic and 
Anglican, reacted with disapproval. In this chapter I will 
first discuss the Roman Catholic and Anglican responses to 
the Essay , and then consider the larger contextual issue of 
how Newman generally, and his theory of doctrinal 
development specifically, fit in with the intellectual 
climate of Newman's day. 

Roman Catholic Responses 
Newman was an astonishing "catch" for the Roman 
Catholic Church. He was a well known theological writer and 
the leader of the Church of England party that was most open 
to Roman Catholicism. Rome could have a reasonable 

21 



22 

expectation of further conversions, as some of Newman's 
disciples and admirers were bound follow his lead. However, 
this is by no means to say that Rome extended open arms to 
his theory of doctrinal development. Newman therefore found 
himself in an awkward position: his person was welcomed 
warmly and sympathetically by Rome, despite the fact that 
they found his thought perplexing and sometimes 
frightening. ^ 

The prevailing Roman Catholic suspicion of Newman and 
his Essay was that "the old arguments which had satisfied 
for centuries did not satisfy him, that he needed to 
attribute something new to the Church, a rare and peculiar 
theory, before he could conscientiously join."-^ Two of the 
most prominent Roman Catholic theologians in Italy at that 
time were the Jesuits Passaglia and Perrone. Passaglia 
proved to be a vehement and life-long critic of Newman; 4 
Perrone outrightly denied his thesis concerning doctrinal 
development. 

Newman received some of his harshest criticism from 
Roman Catholics who were native speakers of the English 
language. One example was Dr. Alexander Grant, rector of 
the Scots College in Rome. After reading the Essay , Grant 
came to the conclusion that Newman was guilty of "material 
heresy," and he outspokenly shared this opinion with his 
associates in Rome. 6 There was also the American, Orestes 
Brownson, who was without doubt the most vicious of Newman's 
detractors. Like Grant, Brownson was convinced that 



23 

Newman's thought was heretical. His bishop (Fitzpatrick 
of Boston) concurred.' In a series of articles published in 
his own journal, Brownson's Quarterly Review , Brownson did 
not content himself with the attempt to disprove Newman's 
theology. He attacked Newman's person as well, calling into 
question Newman's character and motives.® 

Clearly, the Roman Catholic Church of the 1840 's was 
not ready for a theory of doctrinal development. What 
Chadwick says of Perrone would appear to be true of the 
Roman Catholic divinity of the day in general: he (Perrone) 
"had no notion of the difficulties created for the older 
form of the doctrine of tradition by modern historical 
research."^ As will be shown in the final section of this 
chapter, Newman was no advocate of the new "science of 
history." Nevertheless, he did perceive that the old notion 
of tradition, which maintains that Christianity does not 
change, is untenable in the face of the evidence of history. 

Anglican Criticisms 
The Anglican response to Newman's Essay was immediate 
and extensive. Writing in 1847, two years after the 
publication of the Essay , J. B. Mozley noted the nine 
Anglican responses which he considered to be the better 
ones; 1 ^ clearly Newman did not lack for feedback from his 
former confreres in the Church of England. Mozley's 
response has been widely regarded as the most convincing — as 
brilliant as Newman's own Essay , in the opinion of Charles 



24 

Gore. 11 

As indicated in the discussion of the sermon on 
developments/ Newman did not think the issue was whether or 
not Christianity has developed; he took it for granted that 
Christianity, in both its Roman Catholic and Anglican 
manifestations/ had developed. Mozley and F. D. Maurice 
accept Newman's assumption in that regard. "The principle 
of development is of course admitted," writes Mozley; "there 
can be no doubt that Christianity was intended to develop 
itself. It was intended to do so on the same general law on 
which great principles and institutions, we may say all 
things/ great or small/ do." 12 Likewise Maurice has no 
doubt that Christianity develops. In his commentary on the 
Epistle to the Hebrews/ which contains a review of Newman's 
Essay / Maurice maintains that the essential elements of a 
doctrine of development can be found in the pages of 

Hebrews. 13 Therefore it is not Newman's assertion of 
development that the Anglican critics question, but rather 
his explanation of development. 

Newman's Notion of "Corruption" 

One of Mozley 's central and most convincing critiques 
is his contention that Newman's understanding of corruption 
is one-sided and unfairly favors the Roman Catholic Church. 
In Chapter 6 of the Essay , where Newman discusses his "note" 
of the "preservation of type," Mozley correctly charges that 
Newman limits his definition of corruption to "the 



25 

destruction of a norm or type." 14 According to Newman's 
definition, corruption only occurs when a doctrine undergoes 
"positive failure and decay." 15 What Newman's definition 
thereby fails to take into consideration is the possibility 
of corruption by excess or exaggeration ; "corruption being 
defined to be loss of type, it follows that exaggeration, 
which is not this, is not corruption." 1 ^ Mozley aptly notes 
that, armed with such a notion of corruption, one can quite 
easily "vindicate the Roman system from all corruption," 1 ^ 
which of course is exactly what Newman believed he had 
accomplished . 

Examples cited by Mozley as evidence of his claim that 
Rome is guilty of corruption by excess, or exaggeration of 
type, include purgatory, prayers to the saints, and 
transubstantiation. What the New Testament and early Church 
saw as an intermediate state between death and heaven, 
characterized by rest and sleep, later ages exaggerated into 
a notion of purgatory as a place of torture and suffering, a 
sort of "temporary hell." 1 ^ Prayers for the dead and 
commemoration of the saints, a natural and expected part of 
the piety of the early Church, would by later generations be 
exaggerated into prayers to the saints, in which the 
worshiper "asked of the saint the same things which he did 
of the Almighty, in the same form." 19 As for the doctrine 
of the eucharist, the early Church had a simple, 
unspeculative notion of a real change; the bread and wine 
were somehow, mysteriously, changed into the body and blood 



26 

of Christ. Later/ however, this idea of change was 
"analyzed and pushed; it was inferred that if the bread and 
wine were changed into the body and blood, they must cease 
to be the substances of bread and wine." 2 In each of these 
instances, Mozley argues that Roman Catholicism has 
corrupted the original type of the doctrine, not through 
decay or destruction of the original type, which is the only 
notion of "corruption" Newman recognizes, but through 
exaggeration or excess, which, insists Mozley, is every bit 
as much a corruption of the original type as is decay. 

The "Original Idea" of Christianity 

One of the most common complaints about the Essay made 
by its earliest Anglican critics was that Newman claimed 
that Christianity came into the world initially as an idea, 
but then was unable to state concretely the content of that 
original idea. 21 Mozley's challenge is typical. He writes, 
addressing Newman, "Your theory demands a real bona fide 
exordium: show it. But we make the demand in vain; we try 
in vain to find out what this original idea is; it nowhere 
appears; we can make out nothing of it." 22 Maurice too 
finds it to be a "strange contradiction" that Newman 
insists, on the one hand, that knowledge of the essential 
idea of Christianity "is necessary, or at all events would 
be most convenient," while, on the other, he egually 
strenuously maintains that this essential idea cannot be 
arrived at; it "is not forthcoming." 23 



27 

Christianity, according to the Anglican critics, did 
not come into the world as an idea, but rather as an 
institution . Or, if Christianity did come into the world as 
an idea, the apostles very quickly turned it into an 
institution. This view is held by John Charles Abraham, 
writing anonymously as "a Quondam Disciple." For Abraham, 
the essential meaning of "Christianity" is "Christian 
society"; 24 his primary point of reference is therefore 
institutional. George Moberly is willing to concede that 
Christianity may have come into the world as an idea, if one 
means by "idea" a "mental illumination granted to the 
Apostles." But the apostles in turn ordained deacons and 
elders, and appointed their own successors. What they 
received as an idea, therefore, they manifestly left as an 
institution. 2 ^ Along these same lines, Mozley is at a loss 
to understand "how Mr. Newman can get a Church at all, much 
less a Papal Church, with its local centre and monarchy, out 
of an 'idea. ■ " 26 



Continuous Revelation ? 

The early Anglican critics of the Essay were united in 
their conviction that Newman's theory of development, 
whether Newman acknowledged the fact or not, required a 
corresponding notion of new or ongoing revelation. The 
traditional view is that revelation ceased with the death of 
the last apostle. William J. Irons speaks for many when he 
writes that "development, terminating in a 'developing 



28 

power' [i.e., the infallible developing authority of the 
papacy], must mean / in Mr. Newman's theory, ' another 
Revelation / ' 'another Gospel,' — a change in the objects of 
faith and knowledge." 27 

Mozley contrasts two different senses of development, 
one which he approves, while the other he rejects. The 
first sense is development as simply an explanatory process: 
"development is explanation; explanation is development." 2 ** 
He cites as an example of explanatory development the 
theology of Nicaea — the fathers at the Council simply used 
different words than had previously been used to explain, or 
clarify, the revelation about God which they had inherited. 
This sense of development is perfectly acceptable and to be 
expected. The other sense, which Mozley holds to be 
Newman's and rejects, is development which results in "a 
positive increase of the substance of the thing developed" — 
a new entity growing out of, but not contained in, the 
original material from which the growth began. 29 Examples 
of this latter concept of development are the Roman Catholic 
doctrines of purgatory and papal infallibility, which 
Anglicans claim are not part of the original deposit of 
faith, and cannot be justified unless recourse is had to 
some concept of new or ongoing revelation. 

The most forceful argument concerning Newman's theory 
and ongoing revelation is made by Moberly, who contends that 
the theory is based on an "inadmissible hypothesis" tending 
"to make the Christian system not final." 30 Moberly 



29 

believes that it is the job of the Church to apply the 
revelation which it has already received to the various 
situations in which it finds itself through the ages. This 
notion of application implies that "the original revelation, 
with its own proper institution, is scrupulously, exactly, 
and faithfully (that is, without essential change or 
addition) brought to bear upon those new occasions" in which 
the Church of each new generation finds itself. 3 * Newman's 
theory, maintains Moberly, fails so to preserve the original 
Christian revelation. God has made a once-and-for-all 
revelation of "Himself and His will for the salvation of the 
world." Newman's theory, on the contrary, and the latter- 
day Roman Catholic developments which it seeks to vindicate, 
"suppose continual accessions of revealed truth" 32 — a 
supposition which, for Moberly, is unacceptable. 

No "Theory" at All 

The other criticism of the Essay which is mentioned by 
a number of its early Anglican readers is that it proves 
Newman to have no single, unified theory of development 
after all. For example, Mozley, viewing the Essay as a 
whole, is "unable to discover that Mr. Newman has any 
regular hypothesis at all"; rather, Mozley sees the Essay as 
marked by "a looseness and inconsistency which seems to 
break up his theory as a theory altogether." 33 Irons 
likewise argues that Newman's "theory has no ideal unity 
whatever. ... It is, rather, a number of theories, more 



30 

or less analogous, kept together by an ingenious writer for 
a definite purpose"^ 4 --the purpose of trying to prove the 
legitimacy of the later Roman Catholic developments. As 
noted in the previous chapter, Lash considers these "no 
•theory' at all" criticisms to be justified. ^5 

It is interesting to note that these criticisms from 
his former fellow churchmen seem to have had little effect 
on Newman. There is evidence that he felt "much aggrieved" 
by Mozley's response^ but, maintains Chadwick, there is no 
evidence whatsoever that Newman made alterations in later 
editions of the Essay as a result of Anglican criticisms. ^' 
Prickett holds that Newman did make some changes in the 
third edition of the Essay due to the response of Maurice. ^° 
If this is the case, and Chadwick 's statement is a bit too 
general, it nevertheless remains true that, in proportion to 
the amount of energy and ink the Anglican writers put into 
refuting Newman, he barely noticed their efforts, and what 
he did notice he did not consider worth responding to. 

The issue which now needs to be addressed is the 
relation between Newman's "theory of the development of 
doctrine," and the spirit of the age in which he lived and 
wrote. 



The Intellectual Climate of Newman's Day 
An alternative title for this section could well be 
"Newman and the Paradox of Progress." The paradox which 
confronts us as we look more closely at Newman in the 



31 

context of his historical period is that, while his "theory 
of development" seems to fit very well with the progressive 
spirit of his age, the man himself emphatically does not . 
How do we explain the fact that a man who was in many ways 
anti-modern and anti-liberal, and who did not believe in 
"progress," produced a theory that seems to harmonize well 
with the liberal, modern, progress-oriented notions of 
thinkers such as Hegel and Darwin? This section will be 
concerned primarily with the attempt to solve, or at least 
to account for, that paradox. 

In its day, Newman's theory of development sounded 
strikingly "modern," perhaps even "modernist." 39 The first 
generation of Newman's Anglican critics could not help but 
notice this fact. Mozley charged Newman with asserting an 
"ultra-liberal theory of Christianity" and then joining the 
Roman Catholic Church 4 ^ — no small paradox in itself! 
Progress, which at the time was widely regarded as something 
always and necessarily good, 4 * certainly appeared to be a 
key element in Newman's theory of development. "There is 
something imposing in the idea of a revelation growing and 
enlarging," notes Mozley. He continues: "The idea of a 
fixed settled Revelation . . . does not satisfy ... so 
well as the idea of its substantially growing up to the 
present day." 4 ^ Mozley' s comment is as relevant to the 
discussion of continuing revelation as it is to the question 
of the intellectual climate of Newman's day. 

Moberly in his turn accused Newman of caving in to "the 



32 

pressure of the fertile thought, the many theories of the 
present age." 4 ^ This "fertile thought" Moberly equates with 
infidelity. He asserts that Newman's mind was "ready to 
take up a hint from a modern philosopher and spin it into a 
bridge to pass the chasm that separates popery from 
primitive Christianity." 44 Moberly does not name the modern 
philosopher to whom he here refers, but we can safely assume 
he has Hegel in mind. As Chadwick points out, it is not 
surprising that Newman was interpreted along such lines. 
After all, the word "development," which Newman chose to use 
in connection with his theory, was typical of the 
terminology of the philosophies of history, religion, and 
science which were influential in Newman's day. ^ 

Newman's seemingly liberal theory of development is one 
aspect of the "paradox of progress"; his personal anti- 
liberalism is the other. Robert Pattison has demonstrated 
that Newman was "the uncontaminated antagonist of everything 
modern," who despised above all else the "anti-dogmatic 
principle" of the liberalism of modern culture. ° Newman's 
early work on the Arians of the fourth century led him to 
the conviction that Arius was the first person to infect the 
Church with "liberal apostasy," an infection from which the 
Church has never since been totally free. 47 Led by this 
conviction, Newman carried out in his writings "the most 
uncompromising condemnation of modern civilization yet 
attempted." 48 He was undeniably a man devoid of liberal 
sympathies . 



33 



Chadwick adds that Newman was never one to believe in 
progress, religious or secular. 9 As a result he greatly 
distrusted the new "science of history," along with its 
claim that history is to be understood "as a series of 
phenomena, produced by causes and susceptible of 
•explanation.'"- 50 Newman thought of himself primarily as a 
historian, but he wanted nothing to do with the "notorious 
principles" of the "new" history of his age. 5 * 

So what is the solution to the paradox of Newman and 
progress? I believe Chadwick is close when he writes, 
concerning the Essay t "The line of thought, the expression 
of ideas, the use of analogies, the form and argument were 
Newman's, original to him, individual, stamped with the 
impress of that unusual cast of mind." 52 The problem of how 
to account for religious change was typical of Newman's 
age. However, the solution Newman offered to that problem, 
in his "theory of development," was not a product of the 
age, any more than Newman himself was a product of that 
age. Newman's theory of development was rather the highly 
idiosyncratic product of a most unconventional mind. The 
fact that he used the word "development" is only 
coincidental and must not be overstressed. Newman did not 
choose it because it was a catchword of the intellectual 
climate of his day, but rather because (for some reason 
known only to Newman) he thought the word "development" 
adequately or accurately described the phenomenon he was 
trying to explain. 



34 

It was noted at the conclusion of Chapter Two of this 
thesis that the examination of three important problems with 
Newman's "theory of development" was being postponed until a 
later time. That time has now arrived. 



CHAPTER 4 
SOME PROBLEMS WITH NEWMAN'S THEORY 



Three significant problems concerning Newman's attempt 
to articulate a theory of the development of doctrine , which 
arise in his university sermon on developments and carry 
over into the Essay on Development / are: the notion of the 
"original idea" of Christianity; the question of the 
teleological implications of the theory; and the issue of 
whether Newman's theory of development implies or requires a 
corresponding theory of continuing revelation. These 
problems will now be examined with fuller attention than 
they have thus far received. 

Development Fro« What; The Question of the 
"Original Idea" of Christianity 

As noted in Chapter Two, in the course of his sermon on 
developments Newman asserts that there is a single , great/ 
original idea that corresponds with Christianity, an idea 
which cannot be adequately stated or fully known. 1 It is 
from the seed of that original idea that Christian doctrinal 
developments grow. This same notion of Christianity's 
"original idea" carries over into the Essay . 

Newman begins the second chapter of the Essay by 

35 



36 

describing Christianity as a "fact" which "impresses an idea 
of itself on our minds. "^ This idea which the fact of 
Christianity impresses on our minds is at the outset 
unitary. However, that single idea "will in course of time 
expand into a multitude of ideas, and aspects of ideas, 
connected and harmonious with one another. "^ Thus the 
original idea of Christianity gives birth to further ideas; 
it grows and develops. This "special" idea is so deep and 
rich that it "cannot be fully understood at once"; rather it 
becomes "more and more clearly expressed" with the passing 
of time. He notes with disapproval that an attempt is 
sometimes made "to determine the 'leading idea,' as it has 
been called, of Christianity," to identify explicitly "its 
one idea. "^ Newman emphatically denies the possibility of 
so identifying or determining that essential idea of 
Christianity: "such a task is beyond us." 6 

Despite his unwillingness, or inability, in both the 
sermon and the Essay , to state forthrightly the content of 
the central idea of Christianity, Newman does believe that 
the central aspect , or component, of that idea can be 
known. He writes: "I should myself call the Incarnation 
the central aspect of Christianity, ... [b]ut one aspect 
of Revelation must not be allowed to exclude or to obscure 
another." 7 Newman holds the Incarnation to be the central 
aspect of the idea of Christianity because, he maintains, 
three other key "aspects" ("the sacramental, the 
hierarchical, and the ascetic") all "take their rise" from 



37 

the Incarnation." It is interesting to note that, while 
working on revisions, Newman made the following notation in 
the margin of his copy of the 1845 edition of the Essay ; 
"Surely the leading idea of the Gospel is the Redemption 'Xt 
crucif ied . ' "" Perhaps, deep down, Newman did think the 
leading idea of Christianity could be identified? Maybe so- 
but we should be careful not to base too much on a scribbled 
note that Newman thought no one but himself would ever 
read. In his published writings on development, he is 
consistent in his denial of the possibility of knowing or 
articlulating Christianity's essential idea, just as he is 
consistent in his assertion that such an idea truly exists. 

Newman's first generation of Anglican critics are 
partly, although not wholly, justified in their critique of 
Newman's notion of the original idea of Christianity. Their 
claim (against Newman) that Christianity came into the world 
as an institution rather than an idea, is based on a 
misreading of Newman. Newman does not say that Christianity 
"came into the world" as an idea. On the contrary, he is 
careful to say that Christianity came into the world as a 
" fact " — a fact which "impresses an idea of itself on our 
minds. "^ Jesus Christ and the church he founded are facts 
in the world's history; it is via those facts that 
Christianity came into the world. We seek to understand and 
analyze the fact of Christianity by means of the idea which 
it impresses on our minds, but the fact, not the idea, comes 
first. 



38 

On the other hand, the Anglican critics were justified 
in their complaint that it is not intellectually fair for 
Newman to base his entire theory of development on the 
assertion that there is an original, single idea of 
Christianity out of which all subsequent developments grow, 
when he is unable to say anything concrete about the content 
of that idea. Newman's approach amounts to a tease. If he 
is unable to say something more direct about the foundation 
of his theory of development, he is obligated, if he wants 
to be intellectually honest, to find another foundation. 

One of the most questionable aspects of Newman's notion 
of the development of Christian doctrine from a single idea 
is the very frequent use of organic analogies by which he 
attempts to demonstrate that notion. In one place he 
compares this process to the growth of a baby into a youth, 
in another to the growth of a bird from an egg. 11 Thus, 
Newman claims that the process by which the dogmatic 
system of the nineteenth-century Roman Catholic Church 
developed from the original idea of Christianity is like the 
maturation process in animals: from embryo to child to 
adult, many changes are noticeable, but still it is 
essentially the same animal. 

In a context unrelated to Newman, Robert Wilken has 
correctly pointed out that the "Christian theological 
tradition did not develop out of a single original idea like 
the growth of a plant from a seed." The reason for this is 
that the "organic metaphor does not sit easily with 



39 

historical experience. Ideas and institutions take shape as 
they interact with forces outside of themselves as well as 
from internal logic or entelechy . " 12 Christian doctrine has 
grown in fits and starts , often in reaction to the social 
and philosophical milieu in which it has found itself. It 
has experienced lengthy periods of stagnation and even decay 
which do not square with a notion of steady, ever-increasing 
growth. Thus, contrary to Newman's analysis, the 
development of Christian doctrine from a single idea cannot 
accurately be compared to the gradual growth and maturation 
of a living thing; the analogy between organic and 
historical growth simply does not hold. 

Development To What: The Teleoloqical Question 
The issue of concern at this point is whether or not 
the process of doctrinal development, as conceived by 
Newman, reaches some definite conclusion. Does the time 
ever arrive when a doctrine can be said to be "fully 
developed?" 

This question was raised earlier, in the context of 
Newman's sermon on developments. The sermon was found to be 

1 q 

contradictory in regard to the issue of teleology. J In 
some instances Newman seems to say that the process of 
doctrinal development does come to an end, in other places 
just the opposite: that the process goes on for ever. An 
examination of the Essay leads to the same conclusion; in 
the Essay , as in the sermon, Newman's teleology is 



40 

contradictory. 

On the one hand, Newman speaks of doctrines reaching 
"their full elucidation"; of their growing up into a "body 
of thought"; of their arriving at their "legitimate 
results." 14 Elsewhere he says that developments "terminate" 
in an idea's "exact and complete delineation. " -^ Phrases 
such as these indicate a process which comes to a definite 
conclusion. Newman also refers to the church's official 
definition of a dogma as a termination. 16 At several points 
in the Essay Newman attempts to demonstrate that his own 
theory is in basic agreement with the thought of Butler. 
Chadwick aptly notes that such is not the case in this 
instance: "For Butler 'development' means progress in 
theology. For Newman 'development' means progress in 
theology until the results become binding upon the belief of 
Christians," 17 which occurs when a dogma has been officially 
defined by Rome. Thus, there is significant evidence in the 
Essay that Newman does hold that the process of doctrinal 
development comes to a definite end. 

But the evidence supporting the opposite conclusion (an 
unending process of development) is just as significant. 
For instance, in the Introduction to the Essay Newman writes 
that the "variations" in Christianity "manifest themselves 

. . . by a visible growth which has persevered up to this 

i ft 
time without any sign of its coming to an end." 10 And 

later, in the body of the Essay , he says that we "find 

ourselves unable to fix an historical point at which the 



41 

growth of doctrine ceased, and the rule of faith was once 
for all settled. Not on the day of Pentecost, ... not on 
the death of the last Apostle, ... [n]ot in the Creed. "^ 
These two quotations clearly imply that doctrinal 
development is an ongoing, never ending process — in direct 
contradiction to the statements noted in the preceding 
paragraph. 

Oddly enough, this teleological inconsistency is not 
something for which Newman's early Anglican critics faulted 
him. If they noticed it, they must have decided to draw 
their battle-lines elsewhere; the issue simply does not 
arise in their published reactions to the Essay . 

The problem with Newman's self-contradiction is that it 
weakens the credibility of his overall argument for the 
theory of development. The reader of theological treatises 
rightly expects the absence of obvious inconsistencies, but 
in regard to teleology such inconsistencies are present in 
both Newman's sermon and Essay . His argument would have 
been strengthened if he had simply decided this issue one 
way or the other, and made the strongest case possible in 
support of that position. Instead he argues, at different 
times, in favor of both sides of the question. The critique 
that the Essay reads more like a work of apologetics than 
systematics is relevant once again. 



42 

The Question of New or Ongoing Revelation 
As noted in the previous chapter, one of the most 
strenuous criticisms made by the first Anglican readers of 
the Essay was that its theory of development either 
advocated, or required, a parallel theory of new or 
continuing revelation. Those readers argued that the 
traditional Christian understanding of the finality of 
revelation could not be held in conjunction with Newman's 
theory of development. 

Newman undeniably holds that there are new doctrines, 
and that the Spirit guides the church into the defining of 
new dogmas. An essay on the development of doctrine would 
be pointless if doctrine did not change. However, doctrine 
and dogma are not the same as revelation . The two concepts 
are separable, and it is conceivable for doctrine to change 
without any corresponding change in revelation. Perhaps 
doctrine is changing because it is growing closer to the 
truth of the underlying revelation ("development"), or 
perhaps it is drawing farther away from that revelation 
("corruption"). In either case, the fact of a change in 
doctrine says nothing in itself about the state of 
revelation. Therefore, the question of interest now is 
whether Newman, against the longstanding belief of the 
Christian theological tradition, holds that not only 
doctrine, but also revelation, is mutable. 

Based on the evidence of the Essay , the answer to that 
question would seem to be that Newman's theory does indeed 



43 

include a notion of new or continuing revelation, even if he 
occasionally gives lip service to the more traditional 
view. At one point in the Essay Newman refers to "that body 
of teaching which is offered to all Christians" which is 
partly "a comment, partly an addition upon the articles of 
the Creed." 20 The implication is that the creeds are 
insufficient or incomplete statements of Christian 
revelation. Similarly, Newman writes that God "gave the 
Creed once for all in the beginning, yet blesses its growth 
still, and provides for its increase." 21 In what meaningful 
sense can that which is "given once for all" be said also to 
"grow and increase"? The two concepts would appear to be 
mutually exclusive. Furthermore, Newman states that, if we 
suppose the natural order to have been "once broken by the 
introduction of a revelation, the continuance of that 
revelation is but a question of degree." 22 A revelation 
once given will necessarily be ongoing or continuous? On 
the contrary—the necessary connection between those two 
notions of revelation (once-given and continuing) is not 
apparent. Finally, Newman also describes the process of 
revelation as being "various, complex, progressive, and 
supplemental of itself." 2 ^ Revelation changes. 

An instance of Newman's acknowledging the more 
traditional understanding is his claim that "the holy 
Apostles would without words know all the truths concerning 
the high doctrines of theology, which controversialists 
after them have piously and charitably reduced to formulae, 



44 

and developed through argument." 24 Commenting on this 
passage of the Essay , Chadwick writes that Newman's 
assertion contradicts both the "general argument" of the 
rest of his theory of development, and "every sane 
historical inquiry." 25 The claim that the apostles knew 
"without words" such "truths" as papal primacy, the 
Immaculate Conception, and transubstantiation, is a lapse of 
historical integrity which is rare for Newman. It almost 
seems that Newman included this passage in a half-hearted 
attempt to demonstrate his awareness of the traditional 
Christian assumption about revelation. 

Two authors who have come to Newman's defense in regard 
to this problem of new or ongoing revelation are Ian Ker and 
Hugo Meynell. Ker does so (in a response to Nicholas Lash) 
by distinguishing between "the faith" and "the rule of 
faith." All of the Christian revelation was "revealed in 
essence to the apostles, . . . finally and completely." 
This Ker refers to as "the faith." On the other hand there 
is "the rule of faith," which is "not settled." Revelation, 
or "the faith," was "consummated at the 'end of our Lord's 
ministry'; and yet the implications, the details, the 
possibilities of that revelation [i.e. 'the rule of faith'] 
had still to be worked out in doctrine and practice." 25 
Thus, in Ker's analysis, the faith, or revelation, is given 
once-for-all and does not change; the rule of faith, which 
corresponds with doctrine and practice, does change. 
However, this analysis does not help Newman out of his bind, 



45 

because, in the Essay , both doctrine (the rule of faith) and 
revelation (the faith) are portrayed as entities which grow 
and change. Ker may hold that revelation, or "the faith," 
is immutable, but the Essay does not support the contention 
that Newman would concur with him. 

Meynell' s attempt, which consists in drawing an analogy 
between chemistry and theology, is equally unconvincing. 
Referring to the Essay , Chadwick had posed the question, 
"[l]n what meaningful sense may it be asserted that these 
new doctrines are not 'new revelation*?"^ 7 Meynell 
responds, "It may be asserted meaningfully in the sense 
that, while the new doctrines may not be logically derivable 
from the statements in Scripture, they may be arrived at by 
putting questions about the revelation given in Scripture, 
and testing one's answers in relation to it," the way a 
chemist puts questions and tests answers in the process of 
conducting research." The weakness of this argument, as is 
so often the case with argument from analogy, is the lack of 
any necessary connection between the two things being 
compared. Why must there be any connection between chemical 
discovery and Christian revelation? What makes sense for 
one area of inquiry may well be irrelevant in the other. 
Meynell recognizes this weakness, when he notes that his 
readers "might well accept the account given here, and yet 
maintain that natural science represents a proper use, Roman 
Catholic doctrinal development an abuse, of the intellectual 

, , 9Q 

operations described.^ 3 Precisely so. 



46 



The last word on this subject goes to Lash, who 

accurately assesses the danger Newman created for himself 

with the problem of ongoing revelation. 

It is not difficult to point out the weaknesses 
and inconsistencies in [Newman's] argument, and to show 
that, as a result of his failure rigorously to maintain 
his own insistence on the unity of revelation, much of 
the argument in the Essay is difficult to reconcile 
with any coherent defense (other than a thorough-going 
fideism such as he never contemplated) of the claim 
that "revelation closed with the death of the last 
apostle." 30 

Thus, in the case of the three particular problems 

which have been the focus of this chapter, Newman has been 

found to lack scholarly integrity and consistency. Lash's 

earlier suggestion, that Newman's primary purpose was 

apologetic rather than systematic, seems relevant once 

again. 



CHAPTER 5 
FINAL OBSERVATIONS 

The preceding analysis has shown Newman's attempt to 
formulate a "theory of development" to be significantly 
flawed. As Chadwick notes, Newman himself was aware of some 
of those flaws. For example, Newman sometimes claimed that 
the Essay was more a philosophical speculation than a real 
work of theology. * And at one point in his Apologia , Newman 
confessed, "I doubt not at all that I made many mistakes" in 
the Essay . ^ He furthermore admitted that the Essay 
contained a number of "obscure" and "guestionable" 
statements. ^ How do we account for the fact that a book 
containing obvious inconsistencies has come to exert such a 
great influence? It was stated at the outset that Newman's 
Essay has been widely viewed as the inevitable starting 
point of any examination of the development of doctrine. 
Why is this so? Does the book still deserve such status? 

Chadwick suggests that the Essay 's contribution to 
Roman Catholic doctrine was that it advocated "historical 
development" without at the same time advocating "liberal 
philosophies of development." The Essay could therefore 
function as a vehicle by which a "historical consciousness" 
could enter the Roman Catholic Church. 4 In other words, the 

47 



48 

Essay made historical awareness and sensitivity acceptable 
to some Roman Catholics, whereas the historical speculations 
of thinkers like Bauer and Harnack, based as they were on 
"liberal philosophies of development," were unacceptable. 
Perhaps this contribution is one reason for the Essay 's 
abiding influence in Roman Catholic theological circles. 

Lash identifies some other possible explanations for 
the Essay ' s abiding influence. For instance, the Essay came 
to be a focus of much attention after the outbreak of the 
"modernist" crisis. Between 1907 and the end of the Second 
World War, many theologians were concerned to discover 
whether Newman's notion of development was "modernist." 
This debate kept interest in the Essay alive for more than 
forty years. ^ It is interesting to note that it was more 
the agenda of those involved in the "modernist" crisis, than 
Newman's own ideas, which resulted in his popularity at 
that time. 

Lash also notes that the "methodological revolution" 
which took place in France in the 1950 's, known as la 
nouvelle theoloqie , "with its abandonment of neo-scholastic 
categories in favour of a more concrete, historical 
approach, and the recovery of a sense of 'living tradition,' 
led to an increasing interest in Newman." 6 He cites de 
Lubac and Congar as examples of this phenomenon. However, 
this "renewed interest in Newman's Essay led to an 
increasing tendency to isolate those features of his 
argument which were congenial to the concerns" of the late 



49 

1950 'S; "and to refer to the resulting oversimplified 
restatements as 'Newman's theory of development.'" 7 The 
danger to which Lash is here referring is that, when one 
takes what one needs from Newman's notion of development and 
leaves the rest, the result can only be a distorted picture 
of Newman's overall argument. To be critically fair to 
Newman's Essay , one must consider it as a whole, without 
projecting one's own theological agenda onto it. 

Based on some remarks Newman makes in his Introduction 
to the Essay , we can conclude that his own hope for the book 
was that, if it should prove to have an abiding influence, 
the primary reason would be its usefulness . After 
considering two traditional "theories" which have been 
offered to account for religious change, Newman rejects them 
both precisely on the grounds of their lack of usefulness. 
The first of those is the " dictum of Vincent of Lerins," 
which maintains that "Christianity is what has been held 
always, everywhere, and by all." According to Newman, the 
difficulty with the Vincentian Canon "lies in applying it in 
particular cases. The rule is more serviceable in 
determining what is not, than what is Christianity. . . . "° 
The second traditional explanation is the Disciplina Arcani , 
which holds that the "doctrines which are associated with 
the later ages of the Church were really in the Church from 
the first, but not publicly taught. ..." Once again, the 
problem is lack of usefulness, or applicability. The 
discipline "is no key to the whole difficulty, . . . because 



50 

the variations continue beyond the time when it is 
conceivable that the discipline was in force. "^ Thus, 
neither the Vincentian Canon nor the Disciplina Arcani can 
account for all development. 

Furthermore, Newman concludes his Introduction to the 
Essay with the following challenge: "those who find fault 
with the explanation here offered of [Christianity's] 
historical phenomena will find it their duty to provide one 
for themselves ." 10 My guess is that Newman would have liked 
to have thought that, if his own explanation of development 
was still being taken seriously at the end of the twentieth 
century, the reason would be that no more useful explanation 
of religious change had yet been offered. 

But just how useful can a theory be which is founded on 
an unknowable and ineffable "Idea," which contradicts itself 
on several significant issues, and which gets sidetracked 
with a number of unhelpful sub-theories? If it is indeed 
the case that Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian 
Doctrine helped ease a historical consciousness into the 
Roman Catholic Church, perhaps we should leave its 
accomplishment at that (and it is no small accomplishment), 
and find another, sounder, starting point for our 
contemporary examination of doctrinal development and 
religious change. We need not uncritically assume that 
Newman's Essay is still the "inevitable starting point for 
an investigation of development of doctrine." 

I am aware, in conclusion, that I have not taken up 



51 

Newman's challenge. I have found fault with his explanation 
of Christianity's historical phenomena, without providing an 
alternative explanation of my own. 



NOTES 



Chapter 1 

1. Hugo A. Meynell, "Newman on Revelation and 
Doctrinal Development," The Journal of Theological Studies , 
n.s. XXX/1 (April 1979): 138. 

2. Owen Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman , 2d ed . 
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), xiii. 




4. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 20. 

5. Ibid., 26. 

6. Ibid., 68-9. Newman considered but rejected the 
notion of Disciplina Arcani as a viable explanation for 
Christian doctrinal change; cf. John Henry Newman, An Essay 
on the Development of Christian Doctrine , 6th ed . , with a 
Foreword by Ian Ker (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre 
Dame Press, 1989), 27-9. (The Essay was first published in 
1845; the 6th ed . , used here, is a reprint of the 3d ed . of 
1878.) 

7. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 71. 

8. Newman, Essay , 30, my emphasis. 

9. The letter from Newman to Wilberforce was written 
on December 11, 1853; the emphasis is Newman's. Quoted in 
David Newsome, The Parting of Friends: The Wilberforces and 
Henry Manning (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 385. 

Chapter 2 

1. Lash, Newman , 61. Lash cites the examples of Henry 
F. Davis, Timothy C. Potts, and Jean Stern. 

2. Ibid. 

52 



53 



3, One key element of the Essay which is lacking in 
the sermon is the role of authority in the process of 
development. Newman intentionally left this topic out of 
the sermon: "Nor am I here in any way concerned with the 
question, who is the legitimate framer and judge of these 
dogmatic inferences under the Gospel, or if there be any. 
Whether the Church is infallible, or the individual, or the 
first ages, or none of these, is not the point here, but the 
theory of developments itself." John Henry Newman, Newman ' s 
University Sermons , with an Introduction by D. M. MacKinnon 
and J. D. Holmes (London: SPCK, 1970), 319-20. This book 
is a reprint of the 3d ed. of 1871; Newman's Oxford 
University Sermons were first published as a collection in 
1843. On the role of authority in the Essay , see p. 19, 
below. 

.4. Newman, Sermons , 320, note 2; emphasis in original. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Ibid., e.g., 328, 329, 331, 332, 334. 

7. Ibid., 323. 

8. Ibid., 331. 

9. Ibid., 331-2. 

10. Ibid., 329, emphasis added. 

11. Ibid. 

12. Ibid., 335. 

13. Ibid. 

14. I an indebted to Lash for the portions of Newman's 
sermon cited in this paragraph. Cf. his discussion in 
Newman , 75-9. 

15. Newman, Sermons , 316. 

16. Ibid., 317. 

17. Ibid., 332. 

18. Newman, Essay , 30. 

19. Ibid., 9. 

20. Ibid., 5; emphasis added. 

21. Ibid., 200; see also 438, 440-1, 445. 



54 



22. John Henry Newman, Apologia pro Vita Sua , ed . 

A. Dwight Culler (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., Riverside 
Editions, 1956), 183; see also 217, 222. (The Apologia was 
first published In 1864.) 

23. Quoted in Lash, Newman , 16; see also 10, 11. 

24. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 155. 

25. Lash, Newman , 193, note 12; cf. 139. 

26. Meynell, "Newman on Revelation," 139. 

27. Newman, Essay , 29-30; emphasis Newman's. 

28. Lash, Newman , 79. 

29. Ibid., 81. 

30. Ibid., 18. 

31. Ibid. 

32. Newman, Essay , 94. 

33. Ibid., 107 

34. Ibid., 63. 

35. Ibid., 78. 

36. Ibid. 

37. Ibid., 153-5. 

38. Ibid., 89. 

Chapter 3 

1. Stephen Prickett, "Coleridge, Newman, and 

F. D. Maurice: Development of Doctrine and Growth of the 
Mind," Theology LXXVI/637 (July 1973): 341. 

2. See Chadwick, From Bossuet , 169. 

3. Ibid. 

4. Ibid. 

5. Ibid., 182. 

6. Ibid., 170. 



55 



7. Ibid., 171. 

8. Ibid., 172. 

9. Ibid., 183. 

10. J. B. Mozley, The Theory of Development: A 
Criticism of Dr. Newman's Essay on the Development of 
Christian Doctrine (New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1879), 
1. This book was first printed in The Christian 
Remembrancer , January 1847. The nine authors Mozley 
mentions are George Moberly, William Palmer, William Allies, 
F. D. Maurice, Healy Thompson, J. Spencer Northcote, William 
J. Irons, "A Quondam Disciple" (John Charles Abraham), and 
A. Irvine. 

11. Charles Gore, The Holy Spirit and the Church (New 
York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1924), 209. Cf. Chadwick, 
From Bossuet , 96; Lash, Newman , 192, note 10. 

12. Mozley, Theory , 19. 

13. See Prickett, "Coleridge, Newman," 342. It is 
worth noting that Maurice is one of the few (perhaps the 
only) of the Anglican critics who frequently praised Newman, 
and did not call into question Newman's sincerity. "It 
seems to me that widely as Mr. Newman's present conclusions 
are distant from those he once adopted, he has not arrived 
at them by any tortuous or illegitimate process. ... I 
can see nothing in it which would induce me to disparage the 
sincerity of the mind which has passed through it. Nor am I 
much influenced by documents which have been brought forward 
to prove that Mr. Newman was in heart and feeling a Romanist 
while he adhered to our communion. Chronology in the 
history of mental conflicts is most uncertain. . . " 

F. D. Maurice, The Epistle to the Hebrews, with a Preface 
Containing a Review of Mr. Newman's Theory of Development 
(London: John W. Parker, 1846), cxxvii-cxxviii . 

14. Mozley, Theory , 31, emphasis added. 

15. Ibid., 33. 

16. Ibid., 34. 

17. Ibid., 36. 

18. Ibid., 24. 

19. Ibid., 27. 

20. Ibid., 28-9. 

21. Cf. Lash, Newman, 137. 



56 



22. Mozley, Theory , 221. 

23. Maurice, Hebrews , xxi, xlviii-xlix. 

24. John Charles Abraham, Mithridatest Or, 

Mr. Newman's Essay on Development its own Confutation 
(London: W. J. Cleaver, 1846), 29-30. 

25. George Moberly, The Sayings of the Great Forty 
Days between the Resurrection and Ascension, Regarded as the 
Outlines of the Kingdom of God; in Five Discourses, with an 
Examination of Mr. Newman's Theory of Development 
(Philadelphia: H. Hooker, 1850), 207. 

26. Mozley, Theory , 223. 

27. W. J. Irons, The Theory of Development Examined, 
with Reference Specially to Mr. Newman's Essay, and to the 
Rule of St. Vincent of Lerins (London: Francis & John 
Rivington, 1846), 86, emphasis added. 

28. Mozley, Theory , 144. 

29. Ibid., 146. 

30. Moberly, Sayings , 213. 

31. Ibid., 215. 

32. Ibid., 224. 

33. Mozley, Theory , 219. 

34. Irons, Theory , 44. 

35. See above, p. 17; cf. Lash, Newman , 18. 

36. Ibid., 119. 

37. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 164. 

38. Prickett, "Coleridge, Newman," 342. 

39. Cf. Gore, Holy Spirit , 209 f. 

40. Mozley, Theory , 226; cf. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 
96-7. Chadwick's Chapter 5, "Newman and the Philosophy of 
Evolution," is thorough and convincing on the topic of 
Newman and the paradox of progress. 

41. See Gore, Holy Spirit , 220. 

42. Mozley, Theory , 157-8. 



57 



43. Moberly, Sayings , 203. 

44. Ibid., 229. 

45. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 98. 

46. Robert Pattison, The Great Dissent; John Henry 
Newman and the Liberal Heresy (Oxford: Oxford University- 
Press, 1991), vi. 

47. Ibid. 

48 . Ibid. , vii . 

49. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 97-8. 

50. Ibid., 101. 

51. Ibid. 

52. Ibid., 118. 

Chapter 4 

1. See above, p. 7. 

2. Newman, Essay , 55. 

3. Ibid. 

4. Ibid., 56. 

5. Ibid., 35. 

6. Ibid. 

7. Ibid. , 36. 

8. Ibid. 

9. Quoted in Lash, Newman , 199, note 11. The copy of 
the Essay is in the archives of the Birmingham Oratory. 

10. See above, and also Newman, Essay , 55. 

11. Newman, Essay , 171-4. 

12. Robert W. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw 
Them (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 205. 

13. See above, p. 10. 



58 



14. Newman, Essay , 30, 38, 75. 

15. Ibid., 52. Newman is speaking here of what he 
calls "metaphysical developments," which he holds to be one 
of the primary types of development undergone by Christian 
doctrines. 

16. Ibid., 122. 

17. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 90. 

18. Newman, Essay , 29. 

19. Ibid., 68. 

20. Ibid., 77. Newman is here quoting with approval 
his earlier work, The Prophetical Office of the Church . 

21. Ibid., 86. 

22. Ibid., 85. 

23. Ibid., 382. Once again, Newman is quoting with 
approbation his own previous work, in this case, Essays 
Critical and Historical , vol. 2. 

24. Ibid., 191-2. 

25. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 154. 

26. Ian T. Ker, "Newman's Theory: Development or 
Continuing Revelation?" in Newman and Gladstone Centennial 
Essays , ed . James B. Bastable (Dublin: Veritas 
Publications, 1978), 155. 

27. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 195. 

28. Meynell, "Newman on Revelation," 150; emphasis in 
original. 

29. Ibid., note 2. 

30. Lash, Newman , 100. 

Chapter 5 

1. Chadwick, From Bossuet , 185. 

2. Quoted in ibid., 186. 

3. See ibid., 187. 

4. Ibid., 195. 



59 



5. See Lash, Newman , 147-50. 

6. Ibid., 153. 

7. Ibid., 154. 

8. Newman, Essay , 10-11. The "Vincentian Canon" was a 
popular tool with the Tractarians. Newman in his Anglican 
period, Keble, and others, frequently made use of the Canon 
in their attempts to demonstrate the substantial identity of 
the Church of England with the Church of the apostolic and 
patristic eras. 

9. Ibid., 27, 29. 
.10. Ibid., 31. 



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Essays . Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1978. 

Chadwick, Owen. From Bossuet to Newman . 2d. ed . 
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History of England Series, ed. J. C. Dickinson, nos. 7 
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Gore, Charles. The Holy Spirit and the Church . New York: 
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Irons, W. J. The Theory of Development Examined, with 

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Rule of St. Vincent of Lerins . London: Francis & John 
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Explanation in History . London: Sheed and Ward, 1975. 

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between the Resurrection and Ascension, Regarded as the 
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Sykes, Stephen. The Identity of Christianity: Theologians 
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